Just when I thought that something credible was coming out of the Kavanaugh confirmation process, the GOPlins in the White House and Senate have conspired to persuade me otherwise. McConnell claims there will be no more delays and the Senate will vote (as early as Saturday?). Over at the White House, the president tweets about how he is not interfering with the re-opened FBI investigation but it appears that a large swath of evidence and witnesses is off limits to the FBI. The net result seems to be that McConnell will claim nothing new is found by the FBI and will run the floor vote anyway. Here is the story from Judd Legum at popular.info and Greg Sargent at the Washington Post.
The FBI investigation, from the outset, was placed under artificial constraints. The initial deal hammered out by Flake limited the time of the investigation to no longer than one week. If the purpose of the investigation were to uncover the truth, such a time limit would not exist. But the FBI has considerable resources and it’s not implausible that it could complete a thorough investigation in that time.
But the White House wasn’t satisfied.
Instead, White House Counsel Don McGahn, a friend of Kavanaugh and the chief advocate for installing him on the court, is restricting the scope of the investigation. Instead of allowing the FBI to pursue whatever leads it deems relevant, McGahn has imposed severe limitations on the scope of the inquiry.
The FBI has only been authorized to speak to four people: 1. Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, who Ford said witnessed the assault, 2. Ford’s friend Leland Keyser, who Ford says was at the party where the assault occurred but did not witness it, 3. P.J. Smyth, another person Ford says attended the Party and, 4. Deborah Ramirez, the woman who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at Yale.
McGahn has prohibited the FBI from pursuing a host of relevant leads. For example, The FBI cannot interview “former classmates who have contradicted Judge Kavanaugh’s congressional testimony about his drinking and partying as a student.” This testimony is extremely probative because Kavanaugh claimed under oath that he never drank so much that he forgot what happened.
Trump claimed on Twitter that the FBI can interview anyone as part of its probe.
Donald J. Trump
NBC News incorrectly reported (as usual) that I was limiting the FBI investigation of Judge Kavanaugh, and witnesses, only to certain people. Actually, I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion. Please correct your reporting!
September 30, 2018
This is false. The FBI can expand the inquiry only with permission from the White House.
What is the White House afraid of?
The FBI investigation is already limited to a week in duration. If Don McGahn believes Kavanaugh was innocent, why would he artificially limit the scope of the investigation within that timeframe? What does the White House think the FBI would uncover if the FBI talks to other witnesses?
The tactics of the White House suggest that, at a minimum, administration officials are not convinced that Kavanaugh’s hands are clean and are concerned about what a fulsome investigation would uncover.
Here’s more from Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) who asks Another Trump coverup? Former FBI agents question limits on probe of Kavanaugh.
The White House appears to be playing all kinds of crafty rhetorical games to obscure the answer to a simple question: Has it deliberately placed limits on the scope of the FBI’s renewed background check into allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, or not?
As of this morning, there are conflicting reports about who will now be interviewed by the FBI. The New York Times reports that the White House directed the FBI to interview only four people: Mark Judge, who is alleged by Christine Blasey Ford to have acted as Kavanaugh’s accomplice in the sexual assault; P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, who Ford claims were also in the house; and Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at Yale.
Meanwhile, The Post reports that Kavanaugh will also be interviewed, but that a third accuser — Julie Swetnick — will not be. It’s also not clear whether Ford herself will be contacted — she has not yet been, according to her lawyer.
You’ll be startled to hear that instead of providing clarity, White House officials have sown further confusion. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News that the White House is “not micromanaging this process.” Similarly, counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN that, while the investigation will be “limited in scope,” the White House is not setting those limits, which will be “up to the FBI” to set. Conway pointed to President Trump’s weekend tweet saying the FBI should “interview whoever they deem appropriate,” and insisted (somehow without dissolving into giggles at her own disingenuousness) that Trump respects the FBI’s “independence.”
Despite that, Sanders and Conway both also said terms are being dictated — by Republican senators. But the White House has not released the precise directive it gave to the FBI, so we cannot know whether the White House is actively imposing those same limits on those senators’ behalf. CNN reports that the White House and GOP senators together developed those limits with the aim of making them “as narrow as possible.”
Clear now? Of course it isn’t. Because that’s exactly how the White House and Republican senators want it.
Another former Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, Chad Ludington, has now stepped forward to contest Kavanaugh’s sanitized account of his drinking at Yale, claiming that “on many occasions,” he personally witnessed Kavanaugh “staggering from alcohol consumption,” which made him “often belligerent and aggressive.” Ludington flatly asserted that Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Senate about this constituted “lies” and said he’s prepared to talk to the FBI.
But NBC News reports that limits imposed by the White House counsel on the FBI’s investigation preclude questioning former classmates who have contradicted Kavanaugh’s accounts of his drinking. Indeed, other former classmates who have tried to offer the FBI information about him tell the Times and the New Yorker that they haven’t been interviewed. Democrats have pointed out that Kavanaugh’s drinking should be examined because his minimizing of it goes to the core of his credibility, and at any rate, it appears central to the sexual assault allegations themselves.
You’d think that for lawmakers making this enormously consequential decision about a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, it would be better to have more information at their disposal rather than less. But it does not appear that the White House and Republican senators agree.